fishing in March
Teaching children is part of Ensemble XXI's educational programme in Russian regions. Master Class with Pia Siirala student concert after master classes Ensemble XXI in transit Joint performance by Ensemble XXI and Chirdren's choir on Sakhalin


Conducting for Sakhalin

Our Australian tour was followed some weeks later by another huge journey, this time to the Russian island of Sakhalin, North of Japan. The direct flight took over nine hours.

Ensemble XXI had no idea what awaited it. Stunning views of dramatic mountains were the first sight that struck everyone. After a long sleep to get over the jet lag (Sakhalin is only one time zone away from Sydney, Australia) the orchestra headed for the music school to rehearse next morning. There the Director and all her teachers welcomed the musicians in a charming school with lots of light and green plants throughout the building, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere. Everything was spotless and shining. The school concert hall was light, airy and had good acoustics. The rehearsal began with Stravinsky's Concerto in Re (Basle Concerto). When Conductor Lygia O'Riordan turned around to get a pencil from her case she was astonished to find the hall full of little children who had crept in silently to listen to the rehearsal. They sat and did not move until it ended 3 hours later. At the end applause broke out. Once again the orchestra was very touched.

Next day Ensemble XXI  drove for the first concert in Korsakov. There the musicians were greeted by the local children’s choir with a Russian Folksong and the traditional welcoming loaf of bread and salt. When the orchestra saw that the hall was filled mainly with children they were concerned at the choice of programme for such little ones. These fears were soon dispelled and a pin could have been heard as the children listened to Stravinsky and Prokofiev. At the end the children's cheering was quite overwhelming. Back in her dressing room, Lygia heard a tentative knock at the door. Opening it she was almost knocked over by a rush of children demanding autographs. The orchestra was then treated to a concert especially organised for it by the town.

Next day the musicians were again guests at a concert given for them by the Music School and various musical organisations in Yuzhsno-Sakhalinsk. It was at this concert the discovery was made of the most extraordinary 3 boy sopranos. Later in the year Ensemble XXI flew them to Moscow for a Christmas concert and Moscow saw that talent also lies in the far reaches of Russia. Subsequently other young singers from Sakhalin were invited to Australia as part of the orchestra's "Pacfic Rim Music Festival"

Before leaving Sakhalin in an open question and answer session with the audience the orchestra heard how children from Sakhalin had rung a main Moscow radio station about the upcoming Ensemble XXI Moscow concerts. One little boy of 8 had recounted how he loved classical music. He said that he had never, however, been to a classical concert in his life but that Ensemble XXI Moscow was coming and that he was going to be at the concert the following day.

The Yuzhsno-Sakhalinsk concert was packed out and hundreds of people were still queuing in the street to get in after the concert had started. Again there were many children and teenagers. They stood around the stage their faces cupped in their hands looking up at the orchestra with total concentration.

The final concert on Sakhalin was in Kholmsk (formerly a powerful navy base). The town had not yet had the heat turned on (it was November!). In the dressing rooms, the musicians' breath froze. It was just 10 degrees in the hall. The audience sat in their overcoats. It was almost comical. A lady who must have been born in Siberia as she did not appear to notice the cold, was kind enough to make a long speech about how wonderful the Ensemble XXI was. Watching her orchestra turning blue at the side of the stage, Lygia O'Riordan remarked "if she goes on any longer she may as well refer to it as the late Ensemble XXI". Finally the orchestra was on stage. The organisers obviously thought that if you keep the conductor warm, all will be well. They had placed a huge round oven at Lygia's feet. As the perspiration poured off her, the musicians with purple fingers and white faces were almost freezing to death around her. Backstage after the concert the orchestra turned into a spinning mass of dancing Caucasians as someone played an Armenian dance on the piano to which everyone danced to warm up. In the bus the vodka was opened, plastic cups distributed and peace returned.
Pacific Rim Music Festival 2003 on Sakhalin
Sakhalin Story